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An Institutional Work Analysis of Entrepreneurship Innovation towards Sustainability: A Longitudinal Study of Solar PV Industry in China (2002-2017)

Project Description


The candidate should have a first class or upper second class honours degree, or a master’s degree (or equivalent qualification), in Management. Evidence of good spoken and written English is essential. The candidate should have an IELTS score of 6.5 or above, if the first language is not English. This position is open to all qualified candidates irrespective of nationality.


The student will be awarded a PhD degree from the University of Liverpool (UK) upon successful completion of the program.

Project Description:

Entrepreneurs are becoming an important power in promoting a transformation to sustainable development through various ways (Schaltegger & Wagner, 2011; Belz & Binder, 2015). In spite of increasing numbers of studies on entrepreneurship, we still have little knowledge on understanding what motivate entrepreneurs to pursue sustainable business in institutional paradoxical situation, such as in emerging economies, where relation of private-firms to government is complex and paradoxical. In front of the challenge of sustainable development in the context of institutional transition, how do entrepreneurs identify and create entrepreneurial opportunities to simultaneously realize prosocial welfare and business sustainability in an innovative way? How do entrepreneurs shape and alternate institutional arrangement aiming at achieving sustainability innovation? To answer these questions, this study adopts an institutional work analysis to solar PV industry in China. The introduction of a dynamic lens of institutional work deepens our understanding of entrepreneurship innovation towards sustainability.

Research Background
A fundamental question on research sustainable entrepreneurship is that under what conditions entrepreneurship can simultaneously create economic growth, while advancing social and environmental objectives. In the emerging market economies, it is believed that the society and economy is under rapid co-evolution (Luo, 2006). In this context, to obtain or retain competitive advantage, organizations have to develop and apply institutional strategies “directed at leveraging and shaping sociopolitical and cultural institutions” “to pursue and promote not only economic but also social development” (Marquis & Raynard, 2015: 291-292). Many studies have concluded that entrepreneurial actors are able not only to identify the institutional constraints constructed by the social, political and economic context within which entrepreneurs are embedded, but also to envision and alternate the institutional arrangement (Suddaby et al., 2015; Hardy & Maguire, 2007). Firms do not only have to adapt to institutional change but can actually develop considerable power to influence it even in immature institutional environment of emerging economies (Dieleman and Boddewyn 2012).

Recently, studies on institutional work have begun to develop more integrative models of institutional dynamics, including bringing back individual in institutional work analysis (Zietsma & Lawrence, 2010). Yet, we still know far less about the attempts of entrepreneurs, particularly those in new market categories, to shape the regulatory regimes to explore opportunities of innovation. In the turbulent and rapidly-changing competitive solar PV industry, a batch of entrepreneurs in this field witnessed and involved in intensive interactions with institutional change in the past decade. Solar PV industry has developed into a strategic powerhouse for economic and social development in a transformative way in China. Thus, the solar PV industry offers a good example to show how entrepreneurs sense, shape and seize commercial opportunities in pursuing innovation towards sustainability through engaging in institutional work.

Research Questions
The main research questions of this study are:
(1) How do entrepreneurs create opportunities towards transforming to sustainable entrepreneurship?
(2) How do entrepreneurs engage in institutional work dynamically to further their innovation opportunities towards sustainability?
(3) How do entrepreneurs achieve technological, organizational and business model innovations toward sustainability by leveraging institutional work?

Expected Outcomes
• 2-3 academic papers should be submitted to highly ranked ABS journals (above 3*).
• 5-7 other academic papers (including conference papers) should be finished.
• 2-3 policy memos should be submitted to related government departments and industry associations.

For more information about doctoral scholarship and PhD programme at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU): Please visit:

How to Apply:

Interested applicants are advised to email (XJTLU principal supervisor’s email address) the following documents for initial review and assessment (please put the project title in the subject line).
• CV
• Two reference letters with company/university letterhead
• Personal statement outlining your interest in the position
• Proof of English language proficiency (an IELTS score of 6.5 or above)
• Verified school transcripts in both Chinese and English (for international students, only the English version is required)
• Verified certificates of education qualifications in both Chinese and English (for international students, only the English version is required)

Informal enquiries may be addressed to Dr. Xuanwei Cao
(), whose personal profile is linked below,

Funding Notes

The PhD studentship is available for three years subject to satisfactory progress by the student. The award covers tuition fees for three years (currently equivalent to RMB 80,000 per annum) and provides a monthly stipend of 5000 RMB as a contribution to living expenses. It also provides up to RMB 16,500 to allow participation at international conferences during the period of the award. It is a condition of the award that holders of XJTLU PhD scholarships carry out 300-500 hours of teaching assistance work per year. The scholarship holder is expected to carry out the major part of his or her research at XJTLU in Suzhou, China. However, he or she is eligible for a research study visit to the University of Liverpool of up to three months, if this is required by the project.

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